Learning Plans & Activities
Bearing Witness: Photojournalism's Role in History

In this project, students will explore what it means to "bear witness" to events through photojournalism. What do the stories tell us in the present? What record do they leave for history?


Modern World History
English Language Arts




English teacher
Social studies teacher


Students will examine a theme through a work of literature.

Students will research an inquiry question related to the theme.

Students will present their findings to their peers.


Class copies of The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel Books 2019)

Access to research materials (print and/or online)


Three to four class periods


AASL National School Library Standards

B.I.1. Using evidence to investigate questions.

B.I.2. Devising and implementing a plan to fill knowledge gaps.

B.I.3. Generating products that illustrate learning.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Instructional Procedure

Before Reading

Work with your collaborating teacher(s) to prime students' thinking about the role of photojournalism in the novel and in present-day society.

Display the following quote from the decsription of Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos.

"[Robert Capa and Gerda Taro] helped give birth to the idea of bearing witness with technology, bringing home tragedies from across the world."

Ask students to react to the quote, in writing or through discussion. Tell them that they will learn more about Capa and Taro through their reading, but in this moment, you'd like them to reflect on the idea of technology's role in bearing witness to tragedy. How do they see this reflected in today's society? How has it impacted their own study of history over the years?

Tell them they will return to these ideas at the conclusion of their reading of the novel.

During Reading

As they are reading, ask students to take note of points in the book where Daniel is using his lens to bear witness to the society around him. Are these actions helpful? Harmful? Just? Does the story people see in the images reflect the story he was trying to tell?

After Reading

Teach a mini-lesson on the search strategy that is most relevant to your students at this point. Then, ask students to apply this learning to the theme of bearing witness with technology, by choosing from one of the following mini-research projects:

  1. Research the life of a photojournalist and the impact of their career. What questions where they trying to answer with their camera? How did their work influence the society they lived in? Present your findings, including annotated images from their oeuvre.
  2. Research a story where a citizen's cellphone recording impacted the outcome of a scenario. Find multiple perspectives on the event. Present your findings in the context of your own claim as to the role of citizen journalism today.
  3. Research the role of government censorship of visual media. How does it change a society when the stories shown are only the ones that the government wants you to see? How do changing technologies impact a government's ability to do this? Present your findings.
  4. Research another related inquiry question of your choice.

Have students share the results of their research through a gallery walk. Create a space for them to react to their peers' ideas in writing or through discussion.


Students can work independently or collaboratively in their research.

Support students further by providing templates for their research presentations.


Assess students' work according to research rubrics used in your library.

Additional Resources

The bibliography at the back of the novel provides source information that may be useful for students' research.

Aronson, Marc, and Marina Budhos. Eyes of the World : Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism. Holt, 2017.

Capa, Robert. Slightly Out of Focus. Holt, 1947.

More ideas for teaching with The Fountains of Silence https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2228124?topicCenterId=2158552

Jane Cullina

MLA Citation Cullina, Jane. "Bearing Witness: Photojournalism's Role in History." School Library Connection, October 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2228124?childId=2227833&topicCenterId=1955265&tab=1.

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Entry ID: 2227833

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